Her boyfriend in university was a dark, cool guy. Or maybe a cool, dark guy. Whichever came first, he was dark because she likes her men with that darkness of dawn. He was studying engineering and living in Mamlaka Hall. She was studying business administration and living in Hall 12. If you didn’t study in the University of Nairobi, you will learn that the distance between the two halls isn’t more than a ten minute walk. But that chap would never make time to go visit her. They had an interesting relationship where he sat back and she did the heavy lifting. But what was a girl to do? She liked him because he was cool and dark. They graduated and he got a job as a sales agent in an engineering firm while she got a job with one of the big four auditing firms.
His firm hooked him up with a company car and an expense account and told him to go and get biashara. So what does a chap in his early twenties do with a fuelled car and some money in his pocket? He goes all out. He starts drinking, partying and chasing tail. Living his best life. He was not just painting Nairobi red, he was also painting Mombasa, Nakuru and Eldoret red because he was an equal opportunity kinda fella. He was the red devil.
Of course the relationship suffered. They would have fights about women who were constantly busting his phone and messages that she would “stumble upon.” His drinking lifestyle was also over the top.
In December 2010, she and her best friend went down to Maralal, Samburu, to visit her friend’s uncle. She says that Samburu back in 2010 was not what it is now; it was a typical village. One evening, while on a stroll, they met her friend’s pal, a chap called Tom*. She describes him as a tall, dark and handsome guy. He looked so cool walking about Samburu in a leather jacket. Later she told her friend, “Your friend is cute.” She said, “Yeah, isn’t he?”
The following day they went to her friend’s uncle’s shop to hang out. Her uncle was called Papa, not his official name, but the name everybody used to refer to him. That day they found Tom hanging loose at the shop in his leather jacket. He was like Shaft but of Samburu. Papa jokingly told him that he should marry her and Tom, tall, languid Tom, in his leather jacket grinned at her and said, “Oh, city girl. She’s out of my league.” She didn’t giggle. Remember she was working for the big four, their type don’t just giggle hadharani.
The day she was set to come back to Nairobi, they went to say bye to Papa at the shop. After the goodbyes, Papa called a boda boda to drop her off at the bus station. She’s due any moment now. As in if she sneezed too loudly, the baby would crown. Which means her water can break right this moment before she finishes her Fanta and I wouldn’t know what to do. Maybe scream. For help.
In 2012 her best friend, the one from Samburu, had a wedding at Mavuno Church in Bellevue. You can guess who showed up minus his leather jacket. Tall Tom, blinking in the bright glitz of the wedding. During the wedding, he was busy taking pictures of her, tonnes of pictures, maybe to remember her by when he went back to Samburu. Or maybe he was practicing his photography and what better way than to practice on a flower? Anyway, they exchanged numbers and he went back to Samburu. He would call her randomly and sometimes with the sounds of bleating goats or belching camels in the background. They’d talk for hours.
“He was easy to talk to,” she says. Soon after, she moved in with Mr. Engineer but kept her house on Waiyaki Way. You know, because a girl needs her space too. They stayed for a few months then she moved out. Then she moved back in. Then moved out. It was a game of musical chairs. At some point she thought that maybe a baby would settle down this guy. Maybe what he needed to make him responsible was to be a father. So she tried getting a baby. But you know how babies are, they come when they want. While all this was happening she would occasionally be talking to Tom on the phone. Tom was that guy who a girl would call for moral support when they are having a hard time in their relationship. Like an escape.
“I wasn’t attracted to him that way. I just loved talking to him. He was easy to talk to,” she says again. “Of course I knew he liked me but we were from two different worlds. I was working for one of the best auditing firms, pursuing my masters in business administration and a second degree and was living in Nairobi. He hadn’t gone past fourth form, was riding a boda boda for a living and was living in Samburu.”
Because Tom had the DNA of shaft, he started telling her, “One day you will be my wife, I’m praying for that daily.” She would chuckle and roll her eyes because she knew she would have to turn into a pillar of salt first before something like that happened. Allow me to say that there are four types of men. The first man is The Lion. He’s got a lovely mane that women want to touch. He walks into a room and women notice him. Even men. He doesn’t work hard for his kill. Lazy-ass chap. Then there is The Hyena. He’s not a picky eater. He will go home with anyone. He will go home with your woman if he has half a chance. Then there is Mr Cheetah. Him and lightning are admins in the same Whatsapp Group. Girls don’t see him coming. One moment he’s pouring your drink in the bar, the next you are in his t-shirt in his kitchen washing carrots. Then there is Mr Spider. He weaves tales of deceit. He will lie to get what he wants even when you know he’s lying. When he catches you in his web of deceit, the more you struggle to leave, the further inside you get sucked. There is Mr Snake. He’s those guys who will go behind your back to tell your woman where the bodies are buried with the aim of getting a crack at her. Slimy bastard this one. Lastly, there is Mr Crocodile. Oh, this one plays a long game, my friend. Patience of an Indian. You will think he’s harmless. He just lies there, lethargic, showing no sign of energy. But when he moves, you don’t stand a chance to escape. He measures twice and cuts once. And when he cuts, it’s deep.
Tom shaft here, seemed like Mr Crocodile. His highness Lacoste. Only even for him, the stakes were too high for the kind of game he was trying to play. But he kept telling her, “I’m praying. One day you will be my wife.” If he was an email, he would have one of those cheesy signatures that some people have at the bottom of their emails; knowledge comes but wisdom lingers. Oh, for chrissake, start a Youtube channel already.
Anyway, it wasn’t going to happen. While Tom was praying for her to become his wife, she was fighting to keep her relationship with Mr. Engineer. Fighting day and night. One time Tom called and said he was in Nairobi, and asked whether they could meet up. She liked her drink and Tom was a born-again Christian but they went out with her friends and he asked her, “Do you have to drink alcohol?” She said, “Aii, I like my drink. I can’t leave it.” And he was discouraged because the kind of wife he wanted didn’t drink.
“I didn’t want to lead him on so I’d find every opportunity to let him know that I’m in a committed relationship. One time he called to tell me he was in town. He had mentioned that he would be coming but I had plans with my boyfriend, so when he called I told him that I was headed to Nakuru with my boyfriend.”
Tom was pissed! Anybody would be pissed.
“You are horrible!” I say. She chuckles and I hope she doesn’t chuckle too hard lest the baby pops out. “I wanted to discourage him because we were just never going to be together. Plus, I didn’t like him like that. He was just someone I could talk to.”
Then one day he told her, “Listen, I love you.”
“Did you tell him thanks?” I ask. “You look like the kind of chick who’d tell someone that.”
“No,” she laughs, “I said something like, that’s nice.”
In 2014 Tom called and told her that he found a nice girl who was keen to settle down with him. “He was giving me a last chance. ‘If you have any love for me you should declare it now,’” he told me. “I told him that I was happy for him, that I hoped he found happiness and that if he was going to have a wedding I’d be happy to attend,” she says. He said, “Sawa. It was real. Be good.” Then he hung up. He had found a nice girl who worked in an M-pesa shop. A girl who was ready to get married, not one who was still running to Nakuru with her boyfriend.
A few weeks later Tom called and said he had called off the marriage. That he couldn’t go through with it. That he loved her. She sighed into the phone and said, “Tom, really.” Then Papa, called her too, and told her Tom was going crazy. Was there a way she would consider him? “I told him that it would not work. “Please tell him to move on with his life. I’m not the one for him.” This was in 2013/2014. Where were you in 2014? Whatever you were doing that was so important and urgent, just know that Tom was having his heart used as a coaster.
But he couldn’t walk away. He kept calling to say hello and ask how she was doing. Some time in 2014 she blocked him, apparently to help him move on. Tom was officially on ice. But over that year he kept asking about her through her friend. How is she doing? Is she happy with that guy? Does she ask about me? Her friend told him that she was planning to get married to that guy.
“Oprah says that a woman leaves seven times before she leaves for good,” she says. “I think I must have tried leaving my boyfriend more than seven times. Eventually I left him the same year I had blocked Tom.”
“One day, months after leaving my boyfriend, I decided to unblock him,” she says. “I called him and the first thing he said was that he had missed me. He was talking like we had just spoken the other day. He just picked up from where he had left off and over the next few months he kept pleading with me to go visit him in Samburu.”
Eventually she took the trip out. Samburu is far. You take a matatu to Nyahururu and then jump onto a bus for seven hours (those days of bad roads) of a bumpy ride. She arrived, dusty, at about 9pm. “He was waiting for me with his boda. He hugged me and held me tight. He was so emotional, he was close to tears,” she says. They rode to his house in that starless night. She could smell the leather of his jacket and his broad shoulders blocked the wind from her face.
He had done some spring cleaning for her visit.
“His place was a culture shock of sorts, given that I lived in a self-contained house with running water and all,” she says.
It was a two-room house; living room and bedroom. The living room was also a kitchen. There was a flat screen TV and a set of floral sofa sets. The bedroom had one bed, no wardrobe. He kept his clothes in boxes. She stood in the middle of the house taking it all in without looking snobbish and spoilt. He was being a great host; dashing into the bedroom to store her luggage, happy as a lark.
“He carried my hot water to the outside bathroom which didn’t have power. To see which parts of your body to wash, you had to hang a torch from a hook dangling from the roof. The bathroom – as with the long drop toilets – were shared by seven other households on the plot. They were dirty. I showered and then went back in to have a meal of rice and stew that he had cooked. I was tired from the journey so we went to bed. Nothing happened that night.”
“He was a perfect gentleman…” I say almost sarcastically.
“No, of course he tried…”
“Thank God he’s normal.”
Next day he introduced her to his family, against her wishes. They had lunch. She spent a few days in Samburu and then headed back to Nairobi.
After a few days in Maralal she got back to Nairobi. They spoke daily. There was no plan, at least not on her side. He was just a nice guy to talk to; a guy in leather. After a few months, he said, “Look biashara is not so good here anymore. There are many bodas now so I hardly make anything.”
“He couldn’t even make his rent which was 3K a month,” she says. “I told him that he could come to Nairobi and see if there were opportunities here.” He gave his stuff away to his siblings and mom, boarded a bus and came. Of course she hosted him.
“Did he come with his bike ama he left it in Samburu?” I ask, only because little details intrigue me. Turns out he came with his bike. It was hauled onto the roof of a different bus and arrived a day after he arrived, with the dust of Samburu. Now they had each other. And a boda. Isn’t that how all love stories begin?: At the beginning it was just Tom, Jane and a boda.
He thought her place was heaven! Of course he did. It was a one-bedroom apartment, self-contained, flushing loo, a shower, a kitchen, the works. Another thing that happened that I’m sure doesn’t come as a shock to anyone here is that they started dating. While they figured out what he would do, he would stay at home while she went to work.
“He’s the kind of man who doesn’t like to feed off a woman. Even before he came to Nairobi he would always tell me that he couldn’t move into a woman’s house. So, after three months of nothing coming up, he started feeling emasculated. You know, having to ask me for money was not something he liked. He felt reduced.”
So she started giving him a stipend of ten thousand shillings every month to run errands with so that he didn’t have to ask her for money. That worked perfectly. The tension reduced. She had a friend who was doing tomato farming in Ahero, Nyanza. They agreed that he would give it a shot. She gave him some capital and off he went to Ahero to have a go at tomato farming. That went very well because after a few months he harvested and made four hundred thousand shillings. He called and said, “Babe, maybe we can farm nearer Nairobi. This whole thing of me being all the way here and you there is not working. We need to start a family.”
He came back. Bolstered by the gains in Kano, they invested the money in farming in Nyandarua and lost everything. He was back in the house, sad, discouraged and waking up to watch her dress to go to work. What does a man do with his time the whole day when his wife is out working? He waits for her to get back. Then he makes her pregnant. Nine months later they got a girl. He now had something to do during the day; taking care of their daughter.
After seven months, she had an idea. Mavuno church had this pastoral internship. “Perhaps we should enrol you in it,” she suggested. He had admirable oratory and loved the Bible, people liked to listen to him. We tried that. We also tried mushroom farming in Mlolongo.”
The period of the first baby’s birth and the activity thereafter was fraught with money fights. “I would be the one to provide the capital and because of that and the fact that my background is in auditing, I would want him to account for the money. He hated that. He hated being asked what happened to the money,” she says. “Eventually he got around to being accountable for the money and to understanding that when I want accountability I’m not questioning him.”
“Business isn’t what it is now but he can support himself,” she says. “I realised that money is only a small percentage of what makes our marriage work. We don’t stress over it too much.”
“So you are obviously the breadwinner, right?”
“Yes, I am.”
“What keeps you from resenting him for not taking care of you? What keeps you in that marriage?”
“Don’t forget that I had seen what money could do with my ex. He had money yet I was unhappy. With Tom he doesn’t have money but he is there for me. I don’t question his loyalty. I just know he’s there for me. He prays for me every evening. He’s not intimidated by my success but instead keeps praying for me each evening, praying for me to soar higher.”
She picks up a serviette and wipes her eyes then continues. “If you ask him what I’m working on now, or what my plans are for the next three or ten months, he will tell you in great detail because he is interested in me and what I do.” She blows her nose. “I think if I weigh the things I do financially in the house and what he does for me as a woman, it outweighs the money by a mile. I have chosen not to look at him as a provider but as a partner in life, someone who fulfills me as a woman.”
“You have a cold, kwani?” I ask.
“No!” she says, laughing while wiping her eyes. “I’m crying!”
“Oh!” I say. “I thought it was a flu.”
She cries some more.
“Why are you crying?” I ask. “What is it that makes you cry?”
“Happiness. I’m happy and grateful for him. Do you know he prays for me every evening? And he always encourages me. He allows me to thrive. He’s also a great father. A very good father. When I weigh what he is against what he isn’t, I can easily live with what he is because it’s more important to me than money,” she says amidst her tears. “I’m sorry. It’s my hormones, they are all over the place.”
“Imagine what people are thinking. They must wonder what it is I’m telling you to make you cry that much. They must think I’m a horrible human to make a pregnant woman cry so much.”
That doesn’t stop her crying. So I sit there thinking, well, it could be worse – her water could break.
When she’s done crying and has blown her nose, wiped her tears and sipped her Fanta to compose herself, I ask her, “What do your friends and family think of you marrying a former boda guy?”
“Well, to be honest if you meet him you wouldn’t know he was a boda guy. He’s a good orator, very engaging. My closest friends of course, know what he used to do before we met, but I don’t think it’s a big deal. None has asked about his education. They are good friends. My parents know him as a biashara guy, a farmer. My mom is always suggesting other things he can do.”
“Are you proud of him, proud enough to invite him to the office without feeling like he would, I don’t know, embarrass you?”
“I am proud of him. Whenever we have workshops out of town I invite him to join me. I’m not shy to introduce him as my husband, not to my colleagues or to anyone. Not at all.”
“Where is his boda now? The bike?”
“It’s just there in the house.” She smiles. “Nobody rides it.”
“What’s his weakness, then?”
“He has anger issues,” she says,“but never directed at me. He used to get very angry when we started living together and I understood why. He never knew his father. His father abandoned his mother when she was pregnant and that made her very bitter. He grew around a lot of bitterness and anger in their house – anger that was always directed at the children. So he grew up bitter. He grew up thinking that nobody wanted him. That’s still his greatest insecurity; that he will be abandoned.”
He went for therapy in church to unpack the past and now he’s better even though the anger still lingers slightly. “He knows his father is in Nyahururu and he is afraid to go meet him,” she says. “He’s afraid that he might look like him, or walk like him or speak like him and that might not be something he wants. For now, we have put that project to go find him on hold until he feels ready.”
Hopefully by the time you read this story the baby who loves Fanta and makes his mommy cry will have come. And what a love story to come from.